The Tunku, Merdeka and Malaysia

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Perhaps, in these troubled times, it is time for us to recall the Tunku’s legacy. After 52 years of nationhood, let us demand greater accountability, integrity and compassion, says V Chakaravarthy.  

 

We have already celebrated 52 years of nationhood.  It was indeed a momentous occasion, and when we look back over the years, we are amazed at the tremendous progress we have made since 1957.  We look back with pride and our thanks go to all the leaders who steered our country to what we are today.

Our special thanks, gratitude, appreciation, love and esteem should go to our dear Tunku Abdul Rahman and our founding fathers.  The Tunku worked tirelessly, convincing and cajoling our rakyat to go forward for Independence. He, with the assistance of the Constitutional experts, cleverly drafted and bequeathed to us the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya under which every citizen is guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of asembly and freedom of worship, under which all religions are to be respected and nurtured with Islam being the official religion.

In proclaiming Independence, the Tunku stated, “Malaya shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded on the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of the people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.”

The Tunku was the man of the hour who with his congenial ways and a fatherly loving approach was able to convince the Malays and non-Malays of the need to be united and respectful of one another.  Never in the history of a nation anywhere in the world was citizenship granted to tens of thousands of non-citizens who had worked and resided in Malaya.  The Tunku was able to convince the Malays and they showed their magnanimity by granting citizenship to the non-Malays in exchange for the “special position” of the Malays.  This was the social contract which was bequeathed to us by our founding fathers.  We are therefore not an Islamic nation but a nation with Islam as the official religion.

Those who have stated that we are an Islamic state either do not understand our Constitution and Constitutional Law or they have chosen to use it as a tool for their political agenda.

Priceless heritage nearly destroyed

The Tunku who was the Chief Minister then, was instrumental in choosing a suitable venue for the declaration of Independence.  The Coronation Park in Jalan Birch was chosen as the site for the construction of Merdeka Stadium, where on 31 August 1957, the Tunku would declare Independence.  The Coronation Park was a large area behind the Victoria Institution.  The Public Works Department (PWD) under the direction and supervision of Encik Jewkes was assigned to build the Stadium.  The PWD staff then were involved in many mammoth projects for the government, unlike today, when major projects are outsourced to private companies.

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I was a 17-year-old student at the Victoria Institute in 1957.  The Tunku was personally interested in the progress of the construction of Merdeka Stadium and would come to the site most evenings to see for himself.  On most occasions, he would be accompanied by Encik Jewkes, who would brief him on the progress.  We, the students of Victorial Institution, would often walk down to the site of the Stadium after games or library periods to watch with excitement the construction of the Stadium.

On a particular day in 1957 (well before August 1957), the Tunku had come along with his aides and security personnel, and we were there walking around the site.  A Malay gentleman (slightly deranged) was often observed to hang out there.  He approached the Tunku, but was blocked by the security personnel. The Tunku brushed aside the security and beckoned the man to approach him. He went up to the Tunku and demanded to have his shirt.  Lo and behold, the Tunku took off his shirt and handed it to the man.  The security personnel scrambled to get a replacement shirt for the Tunku.  This episode created a lasting impression on me and has remained vividly etched in my memory.  Here was a man of royal blood who with all humility and humaneness removed his shirt and gave it to a poor mentally deranged man.  My admiration and esteem for the Tunku has always been high and will continue to be undiminished.

I was one of the lucky few who were selected by the Chief Minister’s Office to be an usher for the VIPs on Merdeka Day.  A great sense of pride and a deep sense of freedom permeated my being when the Tunku called out “Merdeka” seven times on Independence Day at Stadium Merdeka.  He raised his right hand with his palm and fingers stretched out and, pointing upwards, called out “Merdeka” in such a dignified and regal manner.  Perhaps, our young politicians could learn from the Tunku’s wisdom that there is no need to brandish a keris or raise a clenched fist to drive home a point.

He was a great patriot, a nationalist, a man of integrity, honesty, sincerity and compassion.  He believed in the goodness of every person and wished that every Malayan, and later every Malaysian would live happily and harmoniously with love and sacrifice, if it need be, towards our motherland, Malaysia.

I was shocked, alarmed and uneasy and heavy in my heart when the announcement was made by the previous administration that the Merdeka Stadium and Stadium Negara were to be demolished and the land given to a certain company to build a shopping complex in exchange for building the Commonwealth Complex for the Commonwealth Games.  I believe that there is God above and thanks to His divine intervention, the company was unable to continue with the demolition, mainly due  to the 1997 financial crisis.

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A country derives its strength and culture from its heritage, traditions and history.  The Merdeka Stadium, where the Tunku stood and declared Independence, is certainly the most invaluable heritage site of modern Malaysia.  How could anyone have had the audacity, the recklessness or even the thought of handing over this heritage site to a company for demolition and for the construction of a shopping complex or for any other use?

The Merdeka Stadium should be a site to be cherished, revered and turned into a memorial to our Father of Independence, so that for generations to come, our children will know that a man by the name of Tunku Abdul Rahman stood there and declared Independence and gave us Malaya (later Malaysia) so that we could, with dignity, rule ourselves and live as Malayans.

Many Malaysians were relieved when the present Government decided that the Merdeka Stadium would not be demolished but reinstated to its original glory.  God is great and we thank Him again for His divine intervention.

A national needs policy

After May 13, the National Operations Council under Tun Abdul Razak promulgated the New Economic Policy.  This was a noble document with noble intentions but unfortunately its implementation by over-zealous civil servants has been anything but noble.  The abuse has been pervasire and the fruits of the NEP did not reach many of the people who needed it most — mainly those from the marginalised groups and groups that are struggling to eke out a decent living.

Affirmative action is a good tool which the government should use to effectively remedy any wrongs or weaknesses that it sees in the Malaysian society.  Let the NEP be replaced by NNP (National Needs Policy), under which affirmative action is undertaken based on the needs of the disadvantaged, the poor, the marginalised, single mothers and needy Malaysians irrespective of race, creed and colour.  Let the NEP (or NNP) be an affirmative action policy based on helping the poor and disadvantaged groups; let it not become a positive discriminatory policy. What is the logic and rationale of giving 5-7 per cent discount to a Bumiputra who can afford to buya a house costing RM1 million and above?  Please give, if you must, a higher percentage, perhaps 10 per cent to all Malaysians who are attempting to purchase their first home below RM250,000.  This would be social justice and Malaysians would be proud of their government who cares and protects all Malaysians.  The rich need not be helped; they can fend for themselves.  The poor and disadvantaged need the support of the government to slowly build up their lives and progress further.

READ MORE:  Mission impossible: How Tunku and the civil service raced to prepare for Merdeka

In 1989, the Tunku went to the United States for treatment of glaucoma and then recuperated in a hotel there.  While looking out from his hotel room, he noticed that Americans of all races, creed and colours intermingled so well that he wished for such closeness and unity among his countrymen.  When he returned to Malaysia, he wrote in his column, “Looking back” in The Star newspaper(20 September 1989) an article entitled, “It was a very proud moment for me.” On reading the article I wrote him a letter expressing  my views and feelings.  I did not expect a reply.  But on 27 September 1989, I was pleasantly surprised to received a letter from him.  True to his form, he showed such humility in replying to my letter.

After celebrating 50 years as a sovereign nation, my hope is that we have matured over the years and consider ourselves as Malaysians first and last and Malaysia as our home.  I hope, with time, the dichotomy of Bumiputra and non-Bumiputra will fade away and we move forward as Malaysians and be known as Malaysians only.  We will then come to be known as Chinese Malaysians, Indian Malaysians, Dayak Malaysians, Kadazan Malaysians, Malay Malaysians and so on.  The adjective describes our ethnicity but we are Malaysians and proud to be so. We are therefore not Malaysians Chinese or Malay-sians Indian but are Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians.

Fifty years of nationhood should have made us mature, sober in action and thought, intellectual, logical and rational in our talk and dealings.  We should therefore request — nay demand — greater transparency, greater accountability, integrity, care, compassion, prudence, justice, honour, virtue in all our elected representatives.  We do not need representatives in our august House who shout, “Stupid, stupid, stupid, bodoh” or pass unhealthy, uncouth and degrading remarks such as “monthly leak”, which has insulted all our mothers, sisters and all Malaysian women.  Let us be more dignified, refined and ethical in our debates in our House of Parliament so that elected representatives can be respected and win the hearts and minds of the rakyat.

V Chakaravarthy is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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